Stand-up News
November 5, 2023


November 5, 2023

Mike Binder

As a film director and writer with a career spanning over fifteen studio and independent films, as well as numerous network and cable television shows, I’ve had my fair share of experiences in the world of filmmaking. Recently, I embarked on an exciting project, one that took me back to my original love for the art of filmmaking, one that brought me back to the very early days of my career when I was blessed to work with independent filmmakers like Bobby Newmeyer, Jeffrey Silver, and Caroline Baron at Outlaw Films, making films such as “Crossing the Bridge” and “Indian Summer,” with great actors like Alan Arkin, Bill Paxton, Diane Lane, Elizabeth Perkins, Kevin Pollack, Josh Charles, Steven Baldwin, Jason Gedrick, and David Schwimmer. We worked with visionary executives like the amazing Larry Estes at Columbia Tri-Star who allowed us to make our movies on a budget and never told us how to do it.

Halfway to Amarillo:

This newest journey was none other than producing the first film for my son, Burt. A comedy called “Halfway to Amarillo.” “Halfway to Amarillo” was a labor of love from the very start. My son, Burt Binder, and his cast and crew had a dream of creating a film that would capture audiences’ hearts and minds, and I couldn’t have been prouder to support them in their endeavor. The project began with a simple idea, an incredibly talented group, and a shared passion for storytelling.

The Challenge of a 10-Day Shoot:

One of the most remarkable aspects of “Halfway to Amarillo” was the ambitious schedule they set for themselves. They had just ten days, working ten-hour days, to bring the story to life. It was an intense and challenging experience that demanded meticulous preparation before the cameras even started rolling. Burt, his producer Ricky Cruz, Co-Producer Jake Ahles, his actors Peter Giles, Luke Jones, Lindsay G. Smith, Felicia Michaels, Frank Castillo, and their DP, Josh Smith, all spent four days rehearsing, honing their characters, and fine-tuning every scene. This level of preparation was evident in the seamless and dynamic performances captured on screen. It was also a key reason why they met each day’s shoot on time and with success. Preparation and rehearsal are everything. It’s about so much more than saving money. It’s about clarity, bonding, and illumination. Watching them all go through it again reminded me that these are essentially the most important concepts of independent filmmaking.

A Unique Comedy Concept:

“Halfway to Amarillo” is a fun comedy that explores the world of a writer with writer’s block, struggling to complete a western novel. What makes it special is the twist: his two lead characters from the novel come to life in modern-day Los Angeles and threaten to burn his life down if he doesn’t finish ‘their’ story. It’s a concept as humorous as it is inventive. Throughout the production, I was consistently impressed by all of them. The actors, the crew, and for sure my son, Burt, the writer, director, and one of the actors. They brought an unparalleled level of dedication, creativity, and professionalism to the set. They weren’t just actors and crew members; they were storytellers, fully committed to making Burt’s vision a reality.

Winner of several film festival awards:

“Halfway to Amarillo” went on to win Best Independent Film at the Los Angeles Film Festival and received the audience award at several other film festivals. These accolades were a testament to the dedication and talent of everyone involved. I’m incredibly grateful for this experience and look forward to seeing the film released nationwide this month on Apple TV and other streaming outlets. It’s a testament to the power of chasing your dreams and the enduring magic of cinema, brought to life by an impressive team of young filmmakers who made it all possible.

And more importantly, it made me hungry to make another film. Tell another story with a new perspective.

What Hollywood could learn from the world of shoestring-budget filmmaking:

For so long, the phrase “low budget” brought to mind a single-digit number in the millions. An “independent movie” to me was simply something made outside of a traditional Hollywood studio. There were still trailers, still a full crew, and most importantly, still stars. This new world of independent filmmaking has shown me what is really important: a camera, decent sound equipment, and a great story. Looking back to the world I previously knew, I can’t help but see waste and unnecessary fluff. I’m not saying I don’t like having a trailer, but this experience opened my eyes to how much of a film’s budget never makes it on the screen. How much of it has nothing to do with what the audience actually sees? This experience changed my definition of what an “indie” actually is. Something truly made outside the traditional system. No big names, no fancy frills, just a good idea and a group of people who want to see it come to life. A true indie is rare, but it is still possible. It’s just a lot of work. Way more than you would think, but the rewards, beyond the business side, the personal rewards and satisfaction, can just be so wonderful.

I think I may have forgotten that.